By Air Commodore (Retd) Khalid Iqbal

American media has its share in shaping the perceptions about Pak-US relations. Public opinion in Pakistan is significantly influenced by American media. In anticipation to the third round of Pak-US strategic dialogue, spoilers are out on a Pakistan bashing spree.

All dead and buried issues aimed at projecting negative image of Pakistan have been resurrected. Besides tarnishing the integrity of civilian and military leadership, issues of non-proliferation, pending military action in North Waziristan, corruption and the like have been being rehashed and put on exhibition. Nonetheless, there are a few saner voices as well.

Bob Woodward’s book “Obama’s wars”, has already laid the framework by discrediting the Pakistani leadership. Though he is equally or more harsh while describing the soap opera regarding American leadership.

New York Times has floated a theory that Pakistan can divert the relief aid towards its nuclear programme. The Cutting Edge News reported, ‘Pakistan Goes Rogue and Worries Europe and America.’ This story is based on satellite images showing that the cooling towers at Pakistan’s Khushab-III reactor have been completed.

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has given out a recent estimate that Pakistan had assembled 70-90 nuclear warheads to India’s 60-80, and had produced enough fissile material to manufacture another 90 more.

Ashley Tellis, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: ”Pakistan thinks it is going to be forced to cap its fissile material stocks and wants to make sure it has as much as it can get before then.”

No moral courage has been displayed by most of these nuclear experts by referring to the strategic fallout of Agreement 123, which has allowed India to liberate its eight fast breeder reactors that can churn out sufficient Plutonium to make around 280 nuclear warheads per year. India possesses more than 1300 tons of un-safeguarded reactor grade plutonium in the spent fuel which its power reactors have generated over the years; and one of the Indian nuclear tests of 1998 was based on reactor grade plutonium.

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While writing for Wall Street Journal, Ryan Crocker, former US ambassador to Pakistan, captions his column as ‘Pakistan is Not America’s Enemy’. However, he is worried that the news from Pakistan is grim ‘as Obama administration’s recent report to Congress charges that the Pakistanis aren’t doing enough against the Taliban and al-Qaeda…and press accounts quote unnamed officials asserting that elements in Pakistani intelligence are encouraging the Taliban to step up attacks on NATO forces’.  Crocker further opines that ‘one could easily conclude that we are describing an enemy, not an ally. Many in Pakistan feel the same way’. Crocker envisages robust and durable Pak-US relations and argues that there is no alternative to this option.

Apart from media facade, since the commencement of ‘Strategic Dialogue’ between the two countries, Pak-US relations have graduated to a higher level of maturity, trust deficit has reduced quite a bit. Both sides have begun to take care of each other’s sensitivities and relationship has moved beyond day to day firefighting. Forum of strategic dialogue has a well structured sectoral approach toward eleven key areas.  However, institutional and structural frameworks need to be strengthened to close the gaps.

Third round of dialogue offers an opportunity to rediscover centre of gravity of the alliance, refine understanding of each other’s position on core issues, and side step the hubbub of distrust and blame game. Both sides need to take a fresh look at the overall cooperation between the two countries encompassing all issues and irritants.

Recent chopper attacks into Pakistani territory, belittling Pakistan’s sovereignty and loss of the lives of its soldiers did trigger a spike of public anger. However, damage reduction actions by both sides were prompt, and prudence prevailed at the end. Frenzy dampened soon, and both the countries are back to business as usual. Pakistani side is planning concrete steps to improve the security of logistic containers by shifting the responsibility form private transporters to National Logistics Cell, which is a semi government entity, with major stakes in transportation business.

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There is a need to revisit NATO/ISAF’s operational vision for Afghanistan and make necessary adjustments to cater for Pakistan’s sensitivities. Trigger happy incursions into Pakistan at tactical level are not likely to bring any worthwhile gains; it could cause a major rupture in Pak-US relations.

To improve the working level military relations, NATO Secretary General’s proposal for deeper ties between NATO and Pakistan needs to be evaluated in the backdrop of recently floated idea of giving Pakistan a full member status.

Time has come for America to abandon its dual policy of talking to Taliban alongside a military campaign to decimate them. Most glaring loss due to this policy has been lack of strategic space for the willing segments of Taliban to dissociate from al-Qaeda. Indeed any meaningful reconciliation should begin from Haqqani network. Two-track policy of weakening the Taliban and also putting up a façade of dialogue is leading towards mistrust between the well meaning Taliban elements and the United States. To be meaningful, these negotiations should be based on a bold agenda.

Optimism about Afghan security forces’ capability to takeover the responsibility of their national security needs a realistic review; strategies cannot be based on wishful thinking. Structural weaknesses and capacity inadequacies coupled with demographic distortions hint that these forces could very well be a vehicle for protracted instability. There is a need to workout additional umbrella security structures to underwrite stability in Afghanistan.

America needs to come clean on the issue of division of Afghanistan. Pakistan does not support this idea thrown in by David Blackwell. Any such effort is envisaged to be resisted by all Afghans irrespective of their ethnicity. The US should distance itself from this disastrous concept.

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America needs to follow a viable approach towards Pakistan’s critical shortages in power generation sector. Availability of electricity at affordable cost necessitates that a bulk of power be generated through nuclear facilities. It is time to put Dr A Q khan episode behind us, and America should move ahead to support Pakistan in setting up mega power projects under IAEA safeguards.

Devastating floods have caused destruction and degradation of infrastructure. There is a need to go beyond Kerry-Lugar allocations to take care of post foods revival. Facilitation of soft loans by World Bank and other international financial institutions would provide essential breather to Pakistan’s economy.

Legislative process regarding market access to Pakistani textiles and setting up of ‘Reconstruction Opportunity Zones’ needs to be expedited.

Forthcoming round provides a venue to breakout from the inertia of mundane levels of activity and enter the real strategic orbit. Notwithstanding the American interpretation of the word ‘strategic’ Pakistanis always equate it with some thing big.

Air Cdre Khalid is Masters in Political Science along with War and Strategic Studies. He has also done Air WarCourse, Fellow of Air War College. Instructor’s Course. Senior Command & Staff course. Combat Commander’s Course. He has been a Directing Staff at various institutions of Pakistan Air Force. Presently he is a visitng faculty at:

  • PAF air War College (Staff Wing &War Wing).
  • School of Army Air Defence.
  • Naval War College, Lahore.
  • Quaid-i- Azam University (DSS Department).
  • He is a regular contibutor to Opinion Maker.
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